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Linguistic Oddity #1

16/05/2014

I was reminded, this evening, as I was washing dishes, and the TV was on in the background, that there is one oddity of Australian English I have never quite understood. That is, when you hear it in normal conversation, it usually passes unnoticed, but *if* you happen to notice it, you then become increasingly puzzled over its meaning. Or, if it even has any meaning. I speak of the phrase “…turned around and…”.

Tonight… a woman was describing how her child had benefited from swim lessons because when she fell in the pool “she turned around and got herself out”. Why not “She got herself out” or “she was able to get herself out”. What does “turning around” have to do with anything in this sentence? I notice that it is often inserted between the subject and the verb and to be honest, in most cases, does not seem to carry any meaning at all. I often imagine people spinning on the spot whilst attempting various activities.

I don’t understand where it came from or why its so prevalent in standard English (in Australia, at least).

Comments welcome.

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  1. 16/05/2014 at 10:22 am

    Maybe it’s just a descriptive continuation of the ‘action in progress’? In your example, it gives some detail explaining what the child did in order to get out. Not essential to the narrative but useful perhaps? Now… can you explain to me why the Welsh giving instructions to someone who is reversing (e.g. in a car) will say to them “Back back…”. How would it be possible to ‘back’ forwards??

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  2. SueW
    16/05/2014 at 10:33 am

    no, its not that, is just a thoughtless insertion into a sentence between subject and verb. It was probably a poor example but its the one which has tweaked me again. I have had friends in the past who used the phrase a lot, so I had for a while become used to it. It carries no meaning at all. Its used often where direction has no relevance. “He turned around and said…” “She turned around and (insert any verb at all)…”

    I just cant think where it might have originated.

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  3. Yeats
    16/05/2014 at 3:08 pm

    Aussies are strange? :p

    Perhaps “…turned around and…” is one of those formulaic phrases descended from oral story-telling? Maybe as a setup for the punchline or payoff of the anecdote?

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  4. SueW
    16/05/2014 at 11:07 pm

    ROFL! Aussies *are* strange. But no stranger than Americans :P. You’re right, its a formulaic phrase BUT it doesn’t seem to have been in common use much before the 70s. Thats why I was hoping to get more info. No joy on facebook either (which I’m allowing posts to get shared to)

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  5. John
    01/06/2014 at 11:03 am

    Clearly Strine is aimed at economy in language. The present adds context in combination with past adverbs. If the narrative is sequential meaning is achieved.

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